Dir. Fede Alvarez, 88 min., City North 14
Mr. Alvarez’s bona fides at creating an exquisitely suspenseful situation are established when our “protagonists” (slightly ennobled theives) are up against the blind burglary victim after he cuts the lights in the windowless basement of his house: the tables have been delightfully turned as the burglars grope around attempting to avoid his line of fire. While the film thrills in that moment, it fails in it’s attempt to carry that sense of exquisite tension throughout the entire film, and it struggles when moralizing and (eventually) demoralizing the actions of each party: robbers and the robbed.
With horror master Sam Raimi listed as a producer, the physical beatings and gross-out comedy are upped to the max. Some characters take such a pounding that it’s beyond any strain of credibility that they could arise and function, regardless of any adrenaline (which has probably faded given the somehow long-seeming run time of 88 minutes). A single robber is punched in the face repeatedly by the blind robbery victim (a former marine, no less), whacked over the back with a shovel, grazed with a bullet, thrown out a window, and nearly choked out twice. Like the living dead, he is resurrected again and again to suffer more punishment. Perhaps if this were a Die Hard-esque protagonist, or even an unkillable villain (also represented in this film), his repeated reinvigorations would fit the genre mold, if not the threshold of disbelief.
As a heavy, Stephen Lang (credited, simply, as “The Blind Man”) cuts an ominous presence, partly through his imposing frame lurching from room to room and partly from the fact that he seems to magically appear around every corner of the dilapidated Detroit house where he hoards his million dollar cash fortune (discussing how he obtained it would be too much of a spoiler). He comes across as a monster of Greek myth: the Minotaur lurking behind the corners of his Labyrinth in the ruins of a great city. The setting is innovative, but, given the resurgence of Detroit, it seems like the idea came five or six years too late. While a great concept, the maze-like nature of the house made following the action a bit confusing; the irony and tension is only palpable when you can see the route of the protagonists on the way to their final mistake.
Most horror stories dispose with the cell phone, which could solve almost any horror movie problem, and this film is not the exception. Once the technology is dispensed with, Don’t Breathe becomes a reverse home invasion horror story where the invaded terrorizes the invaders. Although there were endless avenues that the advertised “twist ending” could have followed, the most obvious route was unfortunately the direction the director chose. Nevertheless, it’s a solid home invasion genre piece that has some suspenseful moments.
AV Club: B+